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Industry Group Launches Test of RFID Reusable Containers

A group of Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) member companies are conducting a far-reaching field test of RFID-enabled reusable plastic containers. The goal is to test the durability and reliability of the technology, as well as to demonstrate a business case.
Dec 10, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

December 10, 2007—A group of Reusable Pallet & Container Coalition (RPCC) member companies are conducting a far-reaching field test of RFID-enabled reusable plastic containers. The goal is to test the durability and reliability of the technology, as well as to demonstrate a business case.

The test will see a couple hundred reusable plastic containers (RPCs) passed through a typical cold chain life cycle that begins in farming fields in Washington and California. From there they are shipped to Wal-Mart distribution centers, where the contained produce is cleaned. The next stop is the retail stores, before finally being returned back up the supply chain to be used anew. The embedded tags are tested at the end of each cycle to confirm performance, then re-encoded with new data. Each container will complete at minimum three cycles.

The RPCC believes that testing the tagged RPCs in the supply chain of perishable goods will subject them to especially harsh treatment, including weather, temperature changes and refrigeration, repeated washing, storage, and rough handling. The idea is that if the technology can maintain its performance even in the face of such abuse, then it will likely be robust enough for other supply chains that are less grueling, like those of automotive, beverage, and pharmaceuticals.

Before the field trial launch, rigorous lab tests were run on the tagged RPCs, both by the Michigan State University School of Packaging and a scientist from Cal Poly. More than 14,000 individual tests over 160 hours were conducted. The testing regimen included sinusoidal vibration, dropping, cleaning, and handling. Results were very strong, with the project team concluding that 100 percent read rates in the field should be possible. "The durability and readability of the RFID tags during the lab tests were superb," Pat Kennedy of The Kennedy Group and the RPCC project lead was quoted in the announcement.

In total nine Gen2 tag models were tested; the three best performers were ultimately selected for the field test.

In addition to RFID vendor companies Alien, Avery Dennison, Impinj, The Kennedy Group, and UPM Raflatac, stakeholders from across the produce supply chain are participating in the project. They include Frontera Produce, fruit seller Stemilt, vegetable company Tanimura and Antle, RPC pool operator IFCO SYSTEMS, reusable packaging supplier ORBIS, paper and packaging manufacturer Georgia-Pacific, and Wal-Mart.

The test is scheduled for completion in the spring, at which time RPCC will develop an economic model for RFID-enabling reusable containers. Also, QLM Consulting will analyze data collected from the test and publish a white paper.

RPCC is optimistic that the field test will demonstrate a very compelling application of RFID technology. Fred Heptinstall of IFCO SYSTEMS and RPCC president said, "If the field trial results mirror the data from the laboratory testing, we will prove unequivocally that reusables are the enabler to the cost-effective use of RFID technology."

Read the announcement from RPCC
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